The How To Train Your Dragon franchise is a rare bird. Based on the series of Cressida Cowell novels of the same name, it’s spanned three films (including The Hidden World, the subject of this review), two television series, and four short films (my son is obsessed with the franchise so I’ve seen every single entry). What makes it remarkable is a) it has somehow managed to — with only a couple of exceptions — use the same voice talent for all the major characters throughout its various iterations and b) all those iterations are actually good. Sure, the silly holiday short film Gift of the Night Fury lacks the emotional punch and strong writing of the films, but it’s still a damn entertaining and fun little piece of entertainment. Achieving that level of consistency is rather remarkable in this day and age, and DreamWorks has ridden this train for as long as possible.
But, like all good things, it has come to its inevitable end with How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World, the long-awaited third film. Picking up a year later after the surprisingly tragic events of the second entry, this one finds Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) as the leader of the Viking village of Berk, now practically overrun with loyal — if inadvertently destructive — dragons that have become much beloved by its denizens. He is still backed by his best buddies: Snotlout (Jonah Hill), Fishlegs (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), and the rambunctious, not too bright twins Tuffnut and Ruffnut (TJ Miller and Kristen Wiig). Rounding out his allies are his burgeoning love interest Astrid (America Ferrera) and his mother, the fierce warrior Valka (Cate Blanchett). Returning for flashback purposes is Gerald Butler as his gruff father Stoick the Vast.
First, let’s take a moment to marvel at that cast, which is absolutely brimming with talent. That’s not even the whole list — it also features Kit Harrington, Craig Ferguson, and F. Murray Abraham as the villainous Grimmel. It’s this cornucopia of vocal talent that helps make these films so successful because the voice talent is spectacular in every entry. Baruchel’s awkwardness is so perfect as Hiccup, a brave young man trying to do what’s right, and his foursome of goofball friends all do terrific work as they bumble through their best efforts trying to assist him. Ferrera has been my hands-down favorite throughout the franchise as the hard-as-nails Astrid, a fierce warrior and even fiercer friend. Each of them has grown to fit their role so flawlessly over the nine years of this franchise that one can barely imagine an entry without them.
That consistency also benefits from the writing and direction of Dean DeBlois, who has headed all three films, and the lovely music composed by John Powell. All these elements have combined to make the franchise feel cozily familiar, and The Hidden World is no exception. It’s a beautifully animated, heartfelt film that still manages to convey that sense of wonder that has made its predecessors so enjoyable. It’s a family film that doesn’t insult either children or adults, keeping its themes just mature enough so that there’s a real sense of stakes, but peppering it with delightful humor and a childlike awe at its new discoveries. The film’s antagonist, Grimmel, is easy to root against and its protagonists are, while not always perfect, always doing their best, a sentiment that’s been the heart of the series.
You’ve probably noticed that I haven’t said much about the actual plot of the film, and that’s because it’s absolutely worth going in knowing as little as possible. It doesn’t have any stunning twists, but it’s a story that should be allowed to unfold organically and without prior knowledge (also, if you haven’t seen the first two, you should definitely remedy that before you see this one). It’s a delightfully fun, exciting, and sometimes surprisingly dramatic adventure that affected me far more deeply than I expected. I was able to take my son to an advance viewing three weeks ago and he’s still talking about it, and there’s a fair chance we’ll go back for a second viewing. The Hidden World is everything you want in a final entry, giving you a satisfying ending to the story of Hiccup and his friends, a sense of closure, and packing a sound emotional punch that will resonate with all ages.
Header Image Source: Dreamworks